You guys ask me good questions. I get them via text, or via e-mail or even when I’m standing in my kitchen with a glass of wine while I’m gesturing wildly about some important world issue, like where Olivia Pope from “Scandal” got her latest white jacket. Not coincidentally, my new latest catchphrase is “It’s handled.” I say it emphatically with my jaw set squarely and my arms crossed, just like Olivia. I’ve found that it applies to everything from sweeping the kitchen floor to picking up kids from school. It’s handled, guys. It’s handled. (If I say it enough times, maybe it really will be handled.)
Anyway, today I’m helping you handle the most basic of all kitchen gear — your essential kitchen knives. I view knives like good underwear — they’re the foundation that you build everything else on. If you’re still using that generic IKEA set you bought after college and hoping for kitchen magic — well, you might as well be wearing cheap Costco-brand high-waisted briefs under that new dress you bought for the reunion. In other words, there’s not enough lipstick for that pig.
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One: Wusthof Classic 10″ chef’s knife, $154 // Two: Wusthof Precision Edge Two-Stage Sharpener, $22 // Three: Wusthof Classic Sharpening Steel, $28 // Four: Shun Classic 4″ paring knife, $50 // Five: Walnut Wood Magnetic Knife Strip, $45 // Epicurean Extra-Large Cutting Board, $75
As most chefs will tell you, you should never rush out and plunk down thousands of dollars on a complete set of fancy kitchen knives. I mean, you can if you want, but just in case you don’t have a giant kitchen and a limitless budget, here are my recommendations for putting together your own essential kitchen knife set:
- Wusthof Classic 10″ Chef’s Knife. After college, I took the advice of one of my cooking teachers and invested a classic 10″ chef’s knife. Even now, nearly 16 years later, my Wusthof 10″ knife is still the one I reach for the most. Some people prefer Japanese knives because they’re generally lighter than Wusthofs, but I actually really like my knife’s heavier weight. I feel like the weight of the knife helps me push through harder foods (like carrots or turnips) easier than a lighter knife. But that’s just my preference when it comes to a big ol’ chef’s knife. My real point is that you should first invest in a nice 10″ chef’s knife and never look back.
- Wusthof Precision Edge 2-Stage Sharpener, $28. This little hand sharpener was recommended to me years ago, and it’s what I always run my knives through when I feel like they’re getting dull. After I sharpen my knife through this sharpener, I use the sharpening steel to smooth out the little flecks of metal that have gotten flung up during the sharpening process. I love how stable, light and easy to store this guy is, and you can’t beat the price.
- Wusthof Classic Sharpening Steel, $22. I bought this sharpening steel along with my 10″ chef’s knife. At the time, I bemoaned spending another $20-ish on more knife “stuff” when I was already dropping a veritable fortune (by my broke college standards) on a good knife. But the sharpening steel is an absolute must — without it, you might as well stick to your old cheap knives, because a dull good knife is still, at the end of the day, a dull knife.
- Shun Classic Paring Knife, $50. I discovered Shun knives after a friend gifted me one, and these knives are easiest the sexiest I own. The handle of the knife is made with dark, knotty wood that’s been polished smooth, and the steel is light but strong. A paring knife is key for what I call “detail” work — hulling strawberries, slicing an avocado, cutting a toddler’s frozen yogurt pop open.
- Walnut Wood Magnetic Knife Strip, $45. Of course, there are a bajillion ways to store a knife, but, after living in 5 kitchens over the last 8 years, my hands-down favorite way is with a wall-mounted magnetic knife strip. They’re easy to each this way and out of the way of little hands that like to open drawers. This walnut wood one is particularly nice, because it’s just so pretty. I can totally see this mounted on gleaming white subway tile, a nice dark contrast to the clean, light lines of modern kitchens everywhere.
- Epicurean Extra-Large Gourmet Cutting Board, $75. I know, I know, you’re totally like, “ARE YOU STRAIGHT CRAZY? I am not spending $75 on a board that doubles as my pizza serving platter.” Look, I get it. It might seem like a crazy amount of money to spend on a kitchen item (don’t get me started on topping triple digits when it comes to the cost of a good kitchen trash can — it’s where I put the things I don’t want anymore, for crying out loud! how can it cost this much?!). But the Epicurean cutting board is different than your run-of-the-mill cutting board. For one, it doesn’t dull your knives and its surface doesn’t let bacteria seep in. I’ve had mine for about 10 years and it’s still going strong.
Of course, the above items are my first cut at essential kitchen knives and gear. In other words, these are the six things that I think you should splurge on, and these are the only things that you really need to have a good collection to build on. Think of these items, if you will, as your weekday underpants. They’re solid, basic and they won’t let you down.
Next week I’ll share a few more essential kitchen knives and related gear. Oh, that’s right. I’m just getting warmed up, folks.